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The Weekend’s Best Matchups

posted by The Track & Field Superblog
Friday, February 1, 2013 at 9:15am EST

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The indoor season is kicking into high gear, with the first higher-level pro circuits starting up, several big-time college meets, and the USA Cross Country Championships all going on. What are the best matchups to watch?

Let’s take a look in some kind of chronological order.

Clemson vs Kansas (women)
Armory Collegiate Invitational
Friday and Saturday

Clemson has been #1 in the USTFCCCA computer rankings since the beginning of the season, but this will be the Tigers’ first scored meet of the year. This kind of big-meet atmosphere generally lets us know who is ready for prime time. Kansas is #2 in the rankings and obviously has national title aspirations of their own, but they’ll lose a few points as star quarter-miler Diamond Dixon is skipping this meet in favor of running against the pros in the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston. This meet is so full of top talent that you could call it the pre-nationals of indoor track.
Meet website | Live webcast link (subscription required)

Renaud Lavillenie vs Björn Otto (pole vault)
Indoor Meeting Weltklasse in Karlsruhe
Saturday, 4:25 pm local time (10:25 am ET)

Lavillenie is the reigning Olympic gold medalist, Otto is the silver medalist. Lavillenie is the current world leader in the pole vault with 5.92 meters, but Otto is barely #2 with a 5.90m clearance. This is pretty much a #1 vs #2 matchup here. Adding depth is Olympic bronze medalist Raphael Holzdeppe plus six others with PRs of 5.70m or better.
Meet Website | IAAF preview
If a pirate webcast becomes available, I will put a link here

Deena Kastor vs the calendar
USA Cross Country Championship women’s race
Saturday, 1:00 pm local time (2:00 pm ET)

Kastor’s 40th birthday will be just nine days after this race, but here she is. She’s won the USA Cross Country title more times (eight) than most of the other competitors have even run it. Even if Kastor finishes in one of the top six spots, which would qualify her for the World Cross Country Championships team, she’ll decline the spot as she’s running the LA Marathon on March 17. Shalane Flanagan is a heavy favorite to win, and others to watch include surprise Olympian Kim Conley, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, and Neely Spence.
Meet website | Let’s Run preview | Live webcast link

Dathan Ritzenhein vs Matt Tegenkamp
USA Cross Country Championship men’s race
Saturday, 1:45 pm local time (2:45 pm ET)

The oft-injured Ritz has yet to truly figure out the marathon, but if there’s one thing he’s always been good at it’s cross country. His first international experience was at the 2001 World Cross Country Championships, where he won bronze in the junior race behind some guy named Kenenisa Bekele. Tegenkamp is no slouch, either, being one of the most consistently high-achieving American runners of the last five years. Other potential contenders include Ben True, Chris Derrick, Bobby Mack, and Luke Puskedra. The race is very deep: according to Let’s Run, “[o]nly 56 American men have [ever] gone sub 28 and 10 of them will be in St. Louis on Saturday.”
Meet website | Let’s Run preview | Live webcast link

Kennedy Kithuka vs … (3000m)
Notre Dame Meyo Invitational
Saturday, 4:25 pm

Kithuka really has no peer in this race, but it still rates as an interesting race to watch. Since transferring from Wayland Baptist to Texas Tech, Kithuka has yet to lose a race and won the NCAA Cross Country Championships in stunning fashion, covering the challenging 10k course on a warm day in 28:31. He’s run three races so far this year, including a two-day mile/distance medley double that saw him run under his old PR twice (4:01 and 3:59). It seems unlikely that Kithuka will threaten Lawi Lalang’s 7:42.79 collegiate leader — but then again, it seemed unlikely last November that Kithuka would thoroughly thump Lalang at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Meet home | Live webcast link (subscription required)

Deon Lendore vs Brycen Spratling (400m)
Armory Collegiate Invitational
Saturday, 4:32 pm

Lendore is #1 on the 2013 collegiate list (and #1 in the world), Spratling is #2. Spratling is the top returning athlete in this distance from last year’s NCAA indoor championships. Others who will lend depth to this race are George Mason’s David Verburg, Lendore’s Texas A&M teammate Aldrich Bailey, Jr., Houston’s Errol Nolan, and LSU’s Caleb Williams.
Meet website | Live webcast link (subscription required)

Mary Cain vs. the pros (2 miles)
New Balance Indoor Grand Prix
Saturday, 7:33 pm

Cain is the high school junior who has been on a recent tear, breaking the national high school records for 3000 meters, 1500 meters and one mile. Here she’ll line up against pros–and not for the first time, as none of those above records were set in high school races. Cain isn’t going to win this race, but neither is any other entrant not named Tirunesh Dibaba. Cain probably won’t finish last, either, as she’s already beaten one entrant (Tara Erdmann) in her 3000m record and closed on two others (Sarah Bowman and Nicole Sifuentes) in the last 120 yards of her mile record. Her 3000m time indicates she could run 9:45 or so,–which would have been second in last year’s race.

The times to watch are the indoor high school record of 9:55.92 (Melody Fairchild, 1995) and outdoor high school record of 9:48.59 (Kim Mortenson, 1996). The names are exactly why I think high school track is best appreciated on the local level; neither became the superstar that their early records suggested that they would.

Galen Rupp vs. Dejen Gebremeskel (3000m)
New Balance Indoor Grand Prix
Saturday, 7:48 pm

This is without a doubt the best long-distance matchup yet in 2013. Rupp won Olympic silver at 10,000 meters, Gebremeskel won Olympic silver at 5000 meters. Let’s Run notes that Rupp has only once won a 5k over a sub-13:00 runner, but showed a new turn of speed in last week’s 3:50 mile. Gebremeskel has great finishing speed, which is extra important in an indoor race (recall that two years ago, Gebremeskel outkicked Mo Farah in this meet while wearing only one shoe). If there is someone in this race capable of beating them both, it’s 18-year-old Habos Gebrhiwet, who sports a 5k PR of 12:47.
Meet website | Let’s Run preview | Live webcast link (ESPN3 account required)

Mohammed Aman vs Nijel Amos vs Timothy Kitum (600m)
Russian Winter meet
Sunday, 6:22 pm local time (9:22 am ET)

Usually I try to keep things simple by highlighting a one-on-one matchup, but this one requires three names. These days everything that happens in the 800 meters is in relation to David Rudisha, and these three are notable in relation to him; Aman is the only man to have beaten Rudisha in any of the last three seasons (once each in 2011 and ’12), while Amos and Kitum won Olympic silver and bronze behind Rudisha.

The race should be simply stunning, as getting these three together at a Diamond League meet would be a very big deal, but it has a twist in that it is not an 800 meter race. It’s 600 meters, and that makes it even less predictable. Records to know are the meet record (1:15.26), the world indoor record (1:15.12) and the outdoor world record (1:12.81, by Johnny Gray in 1986).
Meet website
If a pirate webcast becomes available, I will put a link here

Navy at Army
Sunday, Noon (women) and 3:30 pm (men)
Neither of these teams is going to make an impact on the national level, but you simply will not find a more intense and meaningful college track meet. For these two teams, beating the other is not everything. It’s the only thing. At both service academies, you win a star by being on a team that beats the other service academy, and a star is better than a national championship. At other meets, the alumni include famous athletes; at Army-Navy, the alumni include war heroes, astronauts (Buzz Aldrin among several) and a president (Jimmy Carter).
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